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Courtesy of Evergreen

Kristine and Drew Coffman moved from Florida to Redding, Calif. with a vision: Open up a beautiful little boutique hotel—the kind that people drool over on the Travel Channel—with a coffee shop or restaurant on the first floor.

That was 2016. By 2018, the Coffmans had saved enough money to close on a building, and a year later, they opened Evergreen, the Insta-worthy, hotel-coffee shop hybrid of their dreams.

Redding, which is a few hours north of Sacramento, has a population of just over 90,000 people — many of whom are transplants from other parts of the country, or students at local colleges. As owners of one of the only specialty coffee shops in the area, the Coffmans wanted to "help push [the city] forward, and provide ways for people to feel like they could thrive here, whether they’re moving here or just driving through,” Kristine says.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, it threatened to upend the community the couple had worked so hard to establish.

Delivery and takeout kept the lights on for a while. But during such a tumultuous time, the Coffman's community needed more than iced lattes in to-go cups, they realized. It needed a sense of family in the midst of uncertainty — and, honestly, some toilet paper.

Know your customer

The Coffman's business was stable before COVID-19: Every month for the last few years, Evergreen has sold around 5,000 to 6,000 drinks (averaging around $1,000 in drink sales daily), and has bolstered revenue with a food menu (they’re known for their sourdough toasts), bottled beverages, and a merch table outfitted with art prints, greeting cards, and other rotating goods from local artists.

When California's shelter-in-place restrictions first rolled out, the shop relied on mobile to-go orders, and things were slow. At one point, Drew says, sales dropped to as low as $300 per day.

The cafe tried pivoting to delivery via Uber Eats, and business slowly picked up. But it wasn’t enough — not for the cost of goods and payroll, and not for the coffee shop’s mission of cultivating community.

That’s when the “minimart” was born.

Customers could still come into the store to grab their to-go orders, Drew says, but the empty tables were a stark reminder of all the ways the pandemic had interrupted normal life. So they decided to stock them with toilet paper—3 rolls for $2.50—and paper towels, two items that were in high demand at the time.

Next, they added products from a local restaurant supply store, like bags of Cheetos and M&Ms, marking most products up about $1 or $1.50 above cost. They also partnered with their bread baker, Nathan’s Artisan Sourdough Bread, to bring fresh sourdough loaves to the minimart. (Not surprisingly, Kristine says, the loaves were a hit.)

Infusing the minimart with unexpected surprises helped the operation feel on-brand. Evergreen prides itself on its in-house roasted beans and hand-crafted syrups and products—even the almond butter is home-made—as well as its distinct, playful personality.

“Our customers really appreciated that we didn’t take ourselves too seriously,” Kristine says. “We had people come in for a coffee and end up leaving with over $100 in merchandise."

Take care of your community

As minimart traffic increased, the Coffmans collaborated with a struggling local gift boutique, who brought over some of her most popular items (Evergreen made 20% of each sale).

Evergreen’s roaster, Feast Coffee, which had lost accounts due to the pandemic, began making and selling chocolate products in the cafe.

”We were able to support one another during this scary time, and we loved creating unity between local businesses,” Drew says.

To market the minimart, Evergreen simply tapped into its Instagram following, which has already had thousands of engaged customers.

“We created a new logo that was still on brand with our former one to get people excited, we changed our Instagram name from Evergreen to ‘Evergreen Mini-Mart,’ and we took videos to show people what was happening," Drew says.

With minimal work, the shares multiplied.

Be Resilient

The Coffmans are no strangers to misfortune. Back in 2018, just weeks before they closed on the building that would eventually become Evergreen, one of the largest wildfires in California history ripped through their home and destroyed their belongings.

That experience, coupled with the stress of staying open amid a national pandemic, strengthened the pair’s ties to their city.

The “minimart” was never intended to be a money-maker (in a month it drew in around $2,000) but it did help Evergreen see a major bump in traffic — mostly from locals who came in for loaves of bread, toilet paper, and other essentials. Evergreen’s boutique hotel also continues to thrive — Kristine says that while they faced some cancellations early on, visitors continued to book rooms throughout the pandemic.

As restrictions in Shasta County ease, Evergreen opened for dine-in business in mid-May, with limited indoor seating, the shop will continue to offer online to-go orders (and, of course, friendly baristas with masks). The Coffmans are also dreaming up new items for the merch table — like handmade jewelry from Yewo, a social enterprise that provides jobs to African artisans —so people can bring pieces of Evergreen into their homes. This “flexible and memorable" approach, as they call it, resonated with the customers during a global crisis. So why not use it on an ongoing — evergreen — basis?

“Finding ways to meet the needs of the community and contribute creatively felt like a critical way to keep people excited about our shop during this period,” Kristine says. “And we hope they’re excited about it for years to come.”

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